Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trailer Park Gourmet, Pt. 3

In this third installment of Trailer Park Gourmet, I want to discuss a subject near to my heart: Pizza.

I've long been a fan of this particular food, but have recently had some epiphanies about it that seem worth sharing.

First we need to clarify our terms: "Pizza" is a fairly vague word. It can refer to the nouveau creations so many yuppie art-house restaurants around here create, or it can refer to the greasy fare of the college student. I am personally not a fan of the art-house versions, although there are notable exceptions. My concept of "pizza" is fairly traditional: some bread topped with some form of pureed tomatoes, topped with some cheese or cheese-like substance, along with optional toppings.

I don't claim to be an expert on pizza, but I have enjoyed many pies in my life, and want to share a layman's opinions on them. Take these opinions for what they're worth.

There are many styles of pizza. Here in the USA, there are a few well-known styles, typically named after cities. New York pizza is built on a thin but chewy crust, and are generally huge. Chicago pizza is more like a pie: it's got a "deep" crust, which might not actually be thick, just deep. St. Louis pizza is smaller than New York pizza, and while it's also on a thin crust, the crust is actually crisp rather than chewy.

Of those, I like the New York style best, but I very much enjoy a deep dish pie when I can find a good one. I'm unimpressed by St. Louis pizza in general, although there was an excellent shop across the street from our apartment, called Smugala's. I could go back to Smugala's.

But here are some pizza principles I try to live by:

  1. Good pizza doesn't need toppings You can put toppings on a good pizza, but a pizza made with fresh ingredients by someone who knows pizza doesn't need toppings to hide the flavour of the pizza itself. When I order pizza from Domino's or Papa John's, I order them topped. Those pizzas are chain pizza: they're not the expertly created pizzas I can get from locally-owned pizza shops opened by immigrants from Brooklyn. That's not to say they're bad, but they're in that mediocre range where a weak pizza needs some help from toppings.

  2. Larger pizzas taste better. I typically order the largest pizza a store makes. This is not greed: it's a trick I've learned from empirical study. Larger pizzas taste better. There is a very simple explanation for this phenomenon, but it took me some time watching cooks make pizzas before I figured it out. Pizzerias make their dough in advance and store it until a pizza is ordered. Since they have no idea what size will be ordered, they make the dough into uniformly-sized balls. Large pizzas contain the same amount of crust as small pizzas, but the dough is stretched thinner. The difference lies in the toppings, sauce, and cheese. It takes more sauce, cheese, and toppings to cover a larger pizza; so large pizzas have a much higher topping-to-crust ratio. Unless the main attraction of the pizza is the crust (and it may be for some people), the flavour comes from the toppings. So larger pizzas taste better.

  3. I leave my crusts on the plate. Unless you buy whole-wheat pizza, the crust is the most filling and least nutritious part of a pizza. It's also got the least flavour. I always leave mine on my plate.

  4. Pizza with toppings almost always needs bacon I've had good vegetarian pizza, I've had many good pizzas of different types. But unless you specifically know that a given pizza place makes a good pizza with the toppings you want, you need to add bacon. Simply put, bacon is the simplest pizza rescue technique. Bacon makes bad pizza edible and good pizza amazing. The second most important pizza topping is black olive. If you have bacon and black olives on a pizza, you're almost certainly going to have a good pizza, regardless what else you add. One caveat: if you like anchovies, you might not need bacon too. Together they tend to turn a pizza into a salt lick.

  5. Pineapple is under-rated Vegetarian pizza without pineapple is like North Carolina without barbecue: it's possible, but why? And meaty pizza can frequently use some pineapple too. I think there is a prejudice against pineapple because it's associated with little kids, but it's wrong. I proudly stand as a pineapple pizza eater.

So there are just a few pizza principles. I'm by no means an expert, but I take food seriously, and I can't help thinking my pizza-eating experiences are richer for following those guidelines.


joshnixon said...

Dude... how can you leave your crusts on the plate? I'm the guy who eats the leftover crusts on everyone else's plates (that is, before I became carbohydrate conscious)... but anyway, crust is delicious, and I at least eat my own crusts.

I must agree with you on pineapple, however.

Michelle said...

I'm glad that I enjoy your writing style, since that meant I could like the post despite disagreeing with pretty much every point. Except the crust part, mind you, I'm with you on that.

As for the pineapple, my issue with it has always been that pineapple simply should not be hot. It's like hot pickles, it's just not right somehow.

Still, if you're like Trevor, you'll be happy we disagree - his response is always "That means more for me!". I think I can safely promise I won't steal your pizza. *grin*

Gwen said...

Good call on the large pizzas. I'm with you.

Stace' said...

You MUST try fried pickles.

Sarah said...

Smugala's pizza is still here but not the one across from your apartment. The area is down to just one. "St. Louis" pizza would that be Imo's?

clumsy ox said...

When we were there, Smugala's on Gravois (right by Bevo) was certainly a St. Louis pizza: thin, crispy crust cut into squares, etc.

There was also a place Eryn probably remembers, called "Pizza Zone," if I remember correctly. They made decent pie (not St. Louis style), and incredible wings.

Did I get the name right?

And Michelle, you need to try this simple but delightful treat: open a tin of pineapple rings and throw them on the grill for 2--3 minutes, then put them back in the tin and take them into the house. Wonderful, smoky, hot pineapple. I'm salivating.

Ames said...

I have been teetering on the edge of the pineapple thing, myself. Ox almost has me won over.

Stace', deep fried anything is pretty good. Although, I still have not tried the pickles.

Josh, our oldest ONLY likes the crusts. She also takes leftover crusts, especially if she has something in which to dip them.

Shan said...

Holy crap, battered deep fried dill pickles with honey mustard sauce, I think I might die and go to heaven right now. Where, coincidentally, I will be enjoying deep fried dill pickles with honey mustard sauce at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Pineapple. Delicious. I have progressed to buying the CHUNK pineapple for my homemade pizza, because it's pineapplier. But I do drain it and then dry it with paper towel before putting it on, or there are crust moisture issues. Sometimes I also have to seal the crust with brushed olive oil. (Can I get an "Amen", brothers and sisters?)

I also want to point out that temperature is critical to pizza. Too low and your crust rises before the yeast is killed, making the crust doughy and breadlike (which, you know, can also be good). Anything over 450 and you're looking at a flatter, crisper crust. Sometimes it's hard to get the toppings and crust done at the same time so what I do is fire up the oven, slide that baby in there on the bottom rack for a while, then whip it out and throw it under the top element for five minutes or so.

My friend has a brick oven in his backyard and LAWDY you should taste the pies that come out of that lumpish clay monstrosity. Make your Mamma cry.